1. Can you please introduce yourself with a few sentences? What made you such a passionate tour guide?
My name is Konstantsa and I am a licensed Bulgarian tour guide since 2012. My education in different fields, passion for learning and never-ending enthusiasm for traveling as well as the love for passing my knowledge to others and the chance to communicate with different people made guiding the most exciting job for me. I like meeting new people from different cultures and share my love for Bulgaria with them.
2. During the 2-hour drive from Sofia to Rila Monastery, which are the scenic places you like to stop the group?
The journey between Sofia and Rila monastery takes us through scenic places in the southern part of the country. On the way, we are passing along some amazing mountains but also near to the industrial town Pernik, named after the Slavic god of Thunders. Nowadays it is famous with the unique festival Surva, related to the pagan tradition of masquerade games.
Another nice village with a magnificent panorama of Rila, Pirin and Konyavska mountains is Smochevo. There one has an opportunity to see the face of rural Bulgaria. Imagine blooming sunflower fields, vineyards and scattered small houses on the backdrop of majestic mountains with rugged peaks. It is an ideal place for a photo stop and nature admirations.
On the way back we are passing through Kocherinovo – the town of storks. These birds a deeply connected with the Bulgarian folklore and so important for bringing the spring according to our legends and the living tradition of “Granny Marta”.
3. How much does the tour of the main museum of Rila monastery take? Can you say, which are the exhibits that impress the foreign tourists the most?
The main ecclesiastical museum could be seen in about 40-60 min. The tour of the museum is definitely a must, thanks mostly to the unique 80 cm high cross of father Rafael. A miniature wood-carved cross made of boxwood and consisting of 36 scenes from the Bible. There could be seen also many documents, books from the monastery school, even the first in Bulgaria geographic globe. Amusing are the monastery cash safe and the weapons of monastery guardians, and of course liturgical vestment, different utensils, candle lights, icons. It’s also a chance to see one typical monk cell from the 19th century. If you are in a hurry the museum could be seen even for around 20 min, just be sure that you’ve entered the end hall of the second floor to see the famous Rafael’s cross.
There are numerous articles about Rila Monastery, but they usually are written from bloggers that visit the monastery once. You have been there many times in the past 7-8 years. What are the 3 things you recommend to your tourists see in the monastery complex beside the main church and the ecclesiastical museum?
My recommendations are usually depending on the time people want to spend in the complex. I think is a good idea to visit the so-called Guest rooms. They are an ethnographic museum revealing the style of living in the Ottoman period. Here we could see unique 19th century decorated rooms with wood-carved ceilings and rich painting ornamentation. It also a chance to walk through the galleries, which are restricted except for the monks and guests of the Monastery.
Another interesting museum is the one related to farming in the monastery, part of which is also the kitchen. There a fire in 1833 started and after the reconstruction, the entire room is around the chimney with gigantic caldrons and spoons of the monastery chefs.
And the last place of interest is the oldest survived structure. (Here usually my tour starts, showing the bricks inscription made to commemorate the year of construction and the name of the local ruler and donor Hrelyo Dragovol.)
The guardians’ tower, known also as Hrelyo’s tower, constructed in 1335 is a typical defensive structure. On the last floor is the Nativity chapel with some 14th-century frescoes. You cannot walk to the rooftop but still, the windows are giving interesting angles to see the complex from a different perspective.
All the museums could be seen with a combined ticket which cost 16 lv, or individually – Ecclesiastical is 8lv, Guest rooms 5 lv, the old kitchen in the farming museum 3 lv and Hrelyo’s tower 5lv.
If somebody would like to explore the area around the Rila Monastery on foot where he/she should go?
The surroundings are also peaceful and charming. Behind the monastery is Drushlyavitsa river along which starts a small path leading to the ossuary church, or in opposite direction starts another eco-trail in the forest.
Also near to the parking lot is the grave of James Boucher *(James David Bourchier) an Irish journalist and activist, a correspondent for The Times newspaper for the Balkans. Thanks to his articles Bulgaria received lots of sympathy after the Balkan and WWI wars.
After his death in 1920, his last will was fulfilled and he was buried near Rila monastery.
Which are the best places to eat around the Rila Monastery?
My personal preference is Drushlyavitsa restaurant. It is a family-run restaurant located in the old monastery laundry building. Behind it, you could still see the authentic wooden river laundry.
The place is nicely located and they have tasty Bulgarian dishes as well as typical for Rila trout fish. And don’t forget to try the homemade bread “parlenka” and traditional kavarma.
At the end of your visit, you could also try Mekitza – fried pastry with icing sugar. You will recognize the place where they are selling them, a building from 1866. Straight from the exit of the monastery, usually, there is a long queue of hungry people waiting for this delight.